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There are few professions as prejudiced against as sex work. The sex worker as the sinner and corruptor of public morality is a motif that runs deep in our cultural psyche. Some feminist and anti sex work campaigners now add to that burden the idea that sex workers are victims.
As either victim, sinner or both the sex worker as outcast reaffirms public perceptions of good women and bad women, good people, bad people. Changing the language of prejudice however does not change that prejudice and no where is that prejudice reflected more than in the reaction of anti sex work campaigners to sex workers who are activists for sex worker rights.
An out sex worker becomes fair game. Like a laboratory mouse your private life is over, you become an object to be scrutinised in detail. You become a sort of celebrity but with out the perks. Everyone demands to know who you are, why you do what you do, what your politics are, what does your partner do, what do your family think about you being a sex worker, how much do you earn. The questions then progress from being intrusive to often abusive, are you a pimp or are you some sort of failure, were you abused, and finally they become dismissive, contemptuous, even aggressive, suggesting that, obviously are not representative, asking; do you take drugs, are you an alcoholic, are you ashamed, are you……and the questions go on. Anti sex work campaigners and media types ask why sex workers are reticent about speaking about their work and surmise that it must be because they are embarrassed or that they are too victimised and traumatised. I think that sex workers do not speak publicly in numbers because they know how they will be treated.
I am an out male sex worker. I was nervous when I first started speaking as an activist and perhaps naively secretive over admitting that I was an escort. I, like many sex workers, had very good reasons for keeping parts of my life secret until I felt confident enough to deal with the reactions not only of the media and the public, but more importantly of my friends and family. Coming out is not just about admitting what you are to the public, it is also about coming to terms with your own fears about the world knowing your private, often very secret life and the consequences that may follow. Coming out is not only a journey for yourself but also for everyone you care about.
As a sex worker you cope not only with the stigma but also with the possible repercussions of working in an industry that is criminalised. The law deters you from speaking and the media and anti sex work groups collude to silence you by questioning your motivation for being an activist by accusations that you profit from the sex industry
Sex workers make money out of their industry. It is the fact that they are sex workers and involved in the everyday reality of all aspects of the sex industry that makes their voices so powerful and so noxious to anti sex work campaigners. Sex worker activists speak with a genuine honesty that they cannot. Sex worker activists are best placed to understand their industry, its good points and it’s bad. Sex worker activists know the harm that negative legislation causes better than anyone else.
I have learned the hard way as a sex worker activist to accept that putting my head above the parapet inevitably means that it will be shot at. I have however always felt better within myself about being open about what I am. It is for me so important for sex workers to speak out and to be heard. It is important that sex workers challenge popular misconceptions about what being a sex worker is and what our work is. It is our honesty with which the public increasingly empathise and perhaps why the public are now increasingly demanding that sex workers be protected by, rather than persecuted by the law.